You’re going to love Laurence Gilman.
That’s if you get to know Laurence Gilman.
Like a lot of teams, the Maple Leafs keep a tight circle of public speakers, and it doesn’t include assistant general managers. That is Gilman’s new position in Toronto as of Thursday, a move that surprised NHL observers but was received with plaudits from many corners.
And with good reason. As the right-hand man of then-general manager Mike Gillis, Gilman helped turn the Vancouver Canucks into a progressive, modern franchise that came within one win of a Stanley Cup in 2011. He also stepped in as the voice of management when Gillis ran out of patience with the notorious Vancouver media, handling himself with great aplomb.
Plus, he helped construct the Vegas Golden Knights' expansion draft for the NHL after being fired by the Canucks in July 2015. He later tutored general manager George McPhee and his Knights staff on how to approach it, stressing it was less a draft and more a “harvesting of assets.”
McPhee and his staff took his good advice, all the way to next week’s Stanley Cup Final.
Hockey fans in British Columbia will sing Gilman’s praises, not just for the good work he did with their Canucks, but for the man they got to know.
Since last August, Gilman has been a regular contributor on TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver, spending two hours every Wednesday in-studio with the Sekeres and Price show. We called those sessions “Wednesdays with Laurence” and they quickly became appointment radio for Gilman’s insight into NHL matters, story-telling from his years with the Canucks, Coyotes and Jets, and quick, often self-deprecating, humour.
Listeners who spent a few minutes with Gilman quickly discovered that he was extremely intelligent, armed with a law degree from the University of North Dakota, and the humility of a former server at The Keg restaurant, where he “learned to be part of a team,” while putting himself through school.
He came off as your favourite neighbour, and every Wednesday our inbox and phone boards would fill up with hockey fans wanting to know Gilman’s opinion on a wide-variety of matter.
There was good reason for that, too.
While he entered the league as the (old) Jets’ contract negotiator, Gilman quickly got labelled a “capologist” for his acumen with the salary cap. He wields math and analytics freely, believing that possession metrics are most useful, but not the whole story in decision-making.
Gilman’s expert analysis of the collective bargaining agreement led to some competitive advantages with the Canucks. He realized that mandatory limits for veterans in pre-seasons games could well be filled by players on professional tryouts, and so Canucks veterans were spared the headache of having to travel for pre-season, better to save those legs for the team’s grueling regular-season schedule.
He’s a details man. No detail too small.
Take Roberto Luongo’s 12-year contract, signed with the Canucks in 2009, when mega-length deals were in vogue for their ability to reduce the annual average value of salaries. Gilman didn’t discover that CBA loophole, but he was wise enough to know that the deal, in its latter years, could not include a no-movement clause lest the team want to move on, and lest Luongo want to milk every year.
Now in Florida, should Luongo want to continue playing beyond his effectiveness, the Panthers can encourage his retirement by demoting him to the minors. (The NHL so despised these front-load, lengthy pacts that it retroactively punished clubs who signed them).
On this deal, Gilman and the Canucks weren’t thinking a step or two ahead, they were thinking 12 years ahead.
Ironically, Gilman was best-known in Vancouver for the duties that Toronto’s other assistant general manager, Brandon Pridham, now has on his plate. But the new role, GM of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, director of player personnel and overseeing prospects, were responsibilities that he added as his Vancouver front-office tenure (2008-15) continued.
Bottom line, Leafs fans, your franchise has made a smart hire, even if Gilman isn’t the rink-rat, hockey evaluator to replace departed AGM Mark Hunter.
As for his closed chapter in Vancouver, Wednesdays will never be the same.